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Superintendent not in support of speaker's ideas

Sherine Smith says she left PTA Coffee Break meeting early after becoming uncomfortable with some of Michael Gurian's claims.

July 19, 2012|By Joanna Clay

Supt. Sherine Smith is making it known that she doesn't agree with a social philosopher who she said is proliferating stereotypes about how children socialize and learn.

Smith said she left the last Coffee Break, the parent education arm of the PTA council, early because the speaker, author Michael Gurian, was making arguments that contradict scientific research.

The comittee had Gurian speak at its May 23 meeting at the Aliso Creek Inn.

Gurian writes and speaks on the topic of differences between how boys and girls learn and the way their brains function.

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In Kate Roger's column on the Coffee Break meeting, she highlighted some of Gurian's points: boys are more visual learners and might have trouble completing a writing assignment, 70% of D's and F's are given to boys, 74% of kids with "learning disabilities" are boys and said men tend to disconnect from women after intimacy due to oxytocin.

Uncomfortable with some of his claims, Smith started to look information up on her iPhone during his speech.

"When it became clear to me that it wasn't really accurate I left," she said Tuesday. "I didn't want my presence there to be taken as support for his point of view."

Smith emailed Coffee Break members that same morning with an article from the American Psychological Assn. that says studies show that "one's sex has little or no bearing on personality, cognition and leadership."

Neuroscience is in its infancy, Smith said, and it would be immature to claim any difference in brain functioning between genders.

"I think if we substituted the word 'race' for 'gender,' people would be appalled and dismayed," she said.

Smith said she found proliferating such a stereotype just as inflammatory.

She pointed to typecasts such as girls being bad at math or the expectation that boys be active and unemotional as socialization stereotypes that have become a part of our culture.

It is important for parents to look at the facts when presented with information that claims to be scientific, Smith said.

Newman-Jacobs, head of the Coffee Break Committee, said the PTA Council wants Coffee Break "to be constructive and an open forum where we can express our thoughts."

She has since spoken with Smith and they have traded data. She hopes to continue a productive dialogue and doesn't want Coffee Break to ever be at odds with the district, but still continue thought provoking discussions.

Newman-Jacobs, who has a Ph.D in education and owns an educational consulting firm, said while many felt Gurian had valid points, she also saw a lack of evidence in many of his theories.

"I think the most important thing at the end of the day is that teachers should be given the opportunity to see both sides," she said Wednesday.

Joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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